Montana legislators fail to override Dem governor's campus free speech veto

The governor said he was "assured" that public universities in the state embraced free speech.

A campus free speech bill had passed Montana's legislature, but was vetoed by Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock.

Legislators could not muster the votes needed to override the veto.

Montana legislators failed to revive a free speech bill that was vetoed by the governor after passing both the state Senate and House.

House Bill 735 would have banned free speech zones on public college campuses in Montana, which would make every outdoor area open to all speech. The legislation received 28 override votes in the Senate and 56 in the House, which was short of the 67 House and 34 Senate votes it needed to pass, according to KRTV.  

Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock, a 2020 presidential candidate, had previously vetoed the bill, arguing that public institutions already follow the First Amendment.

The legislation would have required that every public institution of higher education in Montana have policies protecting the freedom of expression.

Bullock said in a letter to the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton that he has been “assured” that “[public colleges’/universities’] policies are entirely consistent with -- and, indeed, promote -- our constitutional values of free speech and free assembly.”

[RELATED: 2020 Dem presidential candidate OPPOSES free speech legislation]

The governor said in his veto letter that the legislation would “restrict how a student can vindicate her rights where they have been violated.”

”Any American who believes their federal constitutional rights have been violated can file suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,” Bullock noted. “This landmark statute has protected and enhanced our American system of ordered liberty for decades. It is the tool behind the biggest civil rights victories of the past generation. There are similar tools in state law.”

However, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) disagrees with his assertion, and lists on its website that multiple schools have constitutional issues with their free speech policies.

For example, the University of Montana operates a “free speech area” on its campus, where speakers can “speak on any subject of interest.”

Montana’s largest public institution, Montana State University (MSU), has a “yellow light” rating on free speech and operates a bias policy that states that MSU can take action “when a student’s speech or expression has impacted another student, faculty or staff’s ability to work and learn in an environment free of bias.”

In fall 2018, a student at Montana State University claimed he was banned from campus after a discussion about transgender individuals with a professor, as Campus Reform reported. 

[RELATED: Lawsuit accusing college of banning ‘straight male’ from campus takes a turn]

MSU ended up settling that lawsuit for $120,000 in April.

In 2017, the University of Montana rejected a donor’s invitation for conservative speaker Mike Adams to give a lecture on campus, as UM Dean of Journalism Larry Abramson stated that Adams runs “the risk of offending students” and “is pretty extreme in his views.”

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